Tuesday, November 19, 2013

apple-herb stuffing for all seasons

apple and herb stuffing

I have several stuffing-related confessions to unload today:

My first stuffing love was found at a friend’s house, when her mother served us an apple stuffing from a Pepperidge Farm mix that is no longer made, I presume because it’s not 1989. My god, did I nag my mother (who wasn’t terribly keen on packaged foods, meanie) to make it too. Sometimes she’d cave, though never often enough, but it didn’t stop me from growing up thinking that the dreamiest stuffing includes tart apples, celery, lightly caramelized onions and herbs, a dream I was repeatedly denied as a child and yes, I’m requesting a very tiny violin.

torn-up bread. cornbread works too.
apples, celery, onion, bread, herbs

I think if you’re limiting your stuffing consumption to a single day in November, you are missing out. When you snip stuffing free of its holiday-specific tethers, it doesn’t take long to realize how welcome it could be speared onto your fork the other 364 days a year, a category it shares with latkes (as awesome at cocktail parties as they are for weekend breakfasts topped with a lacy-edged fried egg, and especially fitting this year), yule logs (for Thanksgiving or just the mega-Yodel of it) and fairy lights, which you should not even pretend aren’t as awesome strung across a yard on a July evening as they are outlining shutters and fire escapes in December. I would eat stuffing every week of the year if everyone would stop looking at me so strangely about it.

apples, celery and onion, sauteed in butter

mixed with the torn bread
piled into a pan

I am so insistent that stuffing tastes amazing during the breakfast meal with a loosely cooked egg on top, at lunch, aside a salad, instead of a roll, or dinner on days that are not Thanksgiving, in lieu of a grain or potato, that I went to extensive lengths to develop a recipe called Breakfast Stuffing (but really a Stuffing For All Meals) for The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, something of an herbed and savory but not really eggy breakfast strata, studded with my favorite stuffing flavors. I tested and tested and tested this. We enjoyed and enjoyed and enjoyed it. But, nobody else could get their head around it. Every person I mentioned it to said, “Yeah? Breakfast Stuffing, huh?” in that oh-that-scribble-was-a-dinosaur? voice. I know the oh-that-scribble-was-a-dinosaur voice. So, I pulled it, and it has lived on my computer since, hoping to one day find a home.

apple and herb stuffing

It’s been four years. Maybe it’s time?

So, here is my favorite stuffing for all days of the year, but especially next Thursday. It includes all of the apples and celery and onion I was denied as a child, sometimes cornbread too, and sometimes, I even put some breakfast sausage in it, but it’s not a requirement. It’s very easy to make — just torn bread, gently toasted, some chopped stuff lightly sauteed in butter, then baked in a pan and stuffed, uh, places* [clutches pearls]. It reheats well. It’s a flexible recipe, in case you detest one ingredient but can’t live without, say, chestnuts. And if you’ve ever wanted to eat stuffing for breakfast on day that are not the day after Thanksgiving, well, you’re among friends.

sometimes we slice and toast it, too
sometimes i put an egg on top

Thanksgiving recipes: My favorites are listed here, but if you think I’ve missed something, head to the search box (top left, under the logo) and type in the ingredient — I bet we have something. Unless you’re looking for a whole turkey recipe… um, next year, I promise. [Thanksgiving Recipes]

More Thanksgiving this week: I realized near the end of last week that I had five Thanksgiving dishes left to share with you, and wouldn’t it be fun to post each day this week about one? So, Monday was Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions. Today is stuffing. And if all goes well (so many tiny inconvenient things — meetings and tests and tours and a pesky case of laryngitis — are plotting against us this week), but I’m going to persevere. I love these dishes too much to keep them from you any longer.

Apple and Herb Stuffing* for All Seasons

6 cups torn chunks French, sourdough or country loaf, torn into bits (I use 2 7-ounce demi-baguettes)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large Spanish or sweet onion, chopped small
1 large or 2 small stalks celery, diced small
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon table salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large or 2 small firm, tart tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and diced small
1/4 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 sage leaves, minced
1/2 to 1 cup cup turkey, chicken or vegetable stock or broth
1 large egg

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spread bread cubes in single layer on large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until pale golden, stirring occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool in pan while you prepare the other ingredients.

Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish (a 9×5-inch loaf, 8- or 9-inch square dish, etc.) with 1 tablespoon butter. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, thyme, salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper and cook for 2 minutes, until becoming translucent. Add celery and cook for 2 more minutes. Add apple and saute until a bit tender, 3 to 4 minutes more.

Place bread in large mixing bowl. Scrape contents of skillet on top. Whisk egg and 1/2 cup broth or stock together and pour over. Stir in parsley and sage. Spoon into prepared pan. If mixture looks a little dry, pour remaining 1/2 cup broth over it. [This is a good place to pause, if needed. Nothing bad comes of the stuffing absorbing the liquids for longer.] Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until brown on top and no liquid appears if you insert a knife vertically into the center of the stuffing pan and turn it slightly. Serve immediately, or reheat as needed.

* On a technical note, I insist upon calling stuffing what is actually dressing, even though I know it is wrong. Although they use the same recipes, stuffing goes inside the bird, dressing is baked outside, and I insist that it is better outside the bird. When making stuffing to, uh, stuff, uh, places, one must cook the bird to a higher-than-normal temperature to ensure that the stuffing inside is free from undercooked poultry drippings. Seeing as most turkey is dry enough, I see no point in helping it along.

Variations:

  • Apple, Herb and Cornbread Stuffing: You can replace two cups of the bread chunks with chunks of cornbread. This recipe is a good basic one for croutons.
  • Apple, Herb and Sausage Stuffing: Brown a half-pound of breakfast sausage, cut into 1/2-inch coins, in the pan, before adding the apple. Cook it until it’s just cooked through (it will have lots of time to finish in the oven). Remove it from the pan and add the apples and remaining ingredients as directed above.
  • Breakfast Stuffing: Bake this stuffing in a buttered loaf pan. Let it cool. Slice it off with a serrated knife with a gentle sawing motion (it’s going to break up a bit; it doesn’t matter) and toast each slice until a little brown on the cut sides. Top with a fried egg.


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